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Bunnard Phan

Bunnard Phan, '18

Justice for all

Interns and staff of Brooklyn Defender Services on front steps of a building
Interns and supervisors at Brooklyn Defender Services

My partner and I hunched over the small monitor, downloading the surveillance footage. As investigators for Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS), a public defender's office in New York, we gathered evidence to support BDS's cases, and on this day, we'd just recovered video that proved our client's innocence.

I was relieved, yet stunned. It seemed crazy and unfair how quickly our client's life had turned upside down: one false and unfounded accusation had caused him to be arrested and jailed, because he wasn't able to afford bail. How was this possible?Was it because of where he lived or the way he looked? Our client was a year younger than me, and I could only imagine what he and his family had gone through. I wondered, What would have happened if we hadn't recovered the video?

Investigating cases for BDS made me reconsider my beliefs about our criminal justice system. I began my internship confident that our justice system was a place where truth prevailed and most people got their just desserts. I learned that the reality was not so simple. Speaking with lawyers and judges, I learned about tactics such as overcharging to coerce defendants to accept plea deals. Speaking with our clients, I learned about the consequences an arrest could have, even if our clients weren't found guilty. Most of all, their experiences showed me how easy it is for someone to be exploited because of their appearance and poverty. My summer opened my eyes to the complexity of our criminal justice system and increased my desire to learn more about how it operates.

Bunnard Phan, '18, studied philosophy and literature.
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